U.S. garrisons in Europe flush with 2008 funding
HEIDELBERG, Germany — If you’ve got the time, IMCOM-Europe has the money.
After a couple of lean years, the fiscal picture for U.S. garrisons in Europe is much brighter this fiscal year, officials say.
“You’re going to see more people in Army Community Services and with child care and youth programs,” said Russell Hall, director of Installation Management Command-Europe.
“We’ll have the opportunity to reduce rates and costs. You’ll start seeing a lot of scaffolding with new (construction) projects.”
“I’m fully funded at a very good level,” Hall said. “I wouldn’t say it’s bountiful; I’d say it’s full. We have what we need. They should be able to mow the grass. They should be able to tow the (abandoned) vehicles.”
In fact, Hall said, services such as child care for households whose soldier is at war are going to cost less — a fee cut is planned — and be more available, with longer hours.
The largesse results from several factors: a “substantial” amount of money from the $1.4 billion earmarked this year for family programs in an initiative called the Army Family Covenant — up Armywide from $100 million in 2007 — is one important factor, Hall said.
IMCOM-Europe officials said it wasn’t yet clear how much of that $1.4 billion they would request or receive.
The other factors include getting almost the same amount of money as last year — about $2 billion in base and operations funding with fewer installations to support — and getting it sooner, so the cash flows more smoothly.
“You’re basically going to get the same amount of dollars you had before, but they’re giving it to us at the beginning. It’s wonderful. It gives us predictability,” Hall said.
By contrast, in 2006, IMCOM-Europe started out $180 million in the hole because the Army was withholding funds until Congress passed a supplemental-funding bill.
“We paid our bills, we made it through,” Hall said. “But with the Army fully funding the programs (this year), we’re not short any. I think that’s great news.”
The money comes from the basic Defense Department funding as well as supplemental war-fighting funds, which both must be approved by Congress.
But last year’s supplemental request was being debated in June.
This year, the requests have been sought sooner. President Bush has asked for a record total of more than $196 billion in the supplemental war-fighting bill for fiscal 2008.
That’s in addition to the $507 billion the president wants for non-war military spending in 2008.
The size of the war-funding bills have jumped since October 2006, when Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England told the military services they could start counting more expenses as “war costs,” a Congressional Research Service official told the House Budget Committee on Oct. 24, according to DefenseNews.com.
“This year, it’s with the understanding the supplemental is going to be passed. They’re saying, ‘Go ahead and execute,’” said Steve Pratt, IMCOM-Europe resource manager.
“It’s an optimistic year. It’s going to be exciting.”
Last week, there were reports that Congress was considering approving less than half the amount Bush asked for; estimates were for $70 billion to $90 billion.
Despite the extra funds, though, there remains a significant obstacle unique to Europe: “hiring people,” Hall said.
Some 60 percent of IMCOM-Europe’s workers in child care and youth programs are family members, usually wives, he said, and he must compete for them with the post exchanges and commissaries.
In some cases, soldiers are on their third combat deployment.
“So I have a mom and I also have a person being employed by me. That lady — she’s stressed out,” Hall said.
Some of them have decided they can do the most good by staying home with their children, he said.
“That affects the availability of child-care hours. They can give us the money; that doesn’t help me if I can’t hire someone,” Hall said.
Hall said IMCOM-Europe was continuing to seek other employees — college students, workers from stateside bases and foreign nationals.
He added that success in actually providing the services the money is supposed to be used for will require skill and oversight down to the garrison level.
“The proof is in the pudding,” Hall said. “We’ve got to monitor the execution and the usage.”